La Pinta: Chicana/o Prisoner Literature, Culture, and Politics

La Pinta: Chicana/o Prisoner Literature, Culture, and Politics

La Pinta: Chicana/o Prisoner Literature, Culture, and Politics

La Pinta: Chicana/o Prisoner Literature, Culture, and Politics


In this groundbreaking study based on archival research about Chicana and Chicano prisoners--known as Pintas and Pintos--as well as fresh interpretations of works by renowned Pinta and Pinto authors and activists, B. V. Olguén provides crucial insights into the central roles that incarceration and the incarcerated have played in the evolution of Chicana/o history, cultural paradigms, and oppositional political praxis.

This is the first text on prisoners in general, and Chicana/o and Latina/o prisoners in particular, that provides a range of case studies from the nineteenth century to the present. Olguén places multiple approaches in dialogue through the pairing of representational figures in the history of Chicana/o incarceration with specific themes and topics. Case studies on the first nineteenth-century Chicana prisoner in San Quentin State Prison, Modesta Avila; renowned late-twentieth-century Chicano poets Raúl Salinas, Ricardo Sánchez, and Jimmy Santiago Baca; lesser-known Chicana pinta and author Judy Lucero; and infamous Chicano drug baron and social bandit Fred Gómez Carrasco are aligned with themes from popular culture such as prisoner tattoo art and handkerchief art, Hollywood Chicana/o gangxploitation and the prisoner film American Me, and prisoner education projects.

Olguén provides a refreshing critical interrogation of Chicana/o subaltern agency, which too often is celebrated as unambiguously resistant and oppositional. As such, this study challenges long-held presumptions about Chicana/o cultures of resistance and proposes important explorations of the complex and contradictory relationship between Chicana/o agency and ideology.


This is personal. a fight is always personal. it is also political. Too many people I know, and millions of people I do not know, have endured much worse than my own encounters with corrupt and brutal police, lawyers, jailers, and judges for me to engage in an exercise of scholarly revenge. Someone is in prison tonight and will be tomorrow, and they need our solidarity.

While this is, fundamentally, a scholarly book, the indictments and insights are culled from experience: incessant police harassment of me and friends in the lower east-side Houston barrio of Magnolia for suspicion of one thing or another; a father beaten by White cops in Fort Worth for having a photograph of a White girlfriend in his wallet; women relatives subject to double standards and domestic violence who found the courage to fight back and rebuild lives for themselves and their children; uncles caught in the crimes of poverty who served time with convict intellectuals who became famous behind the walls and beyond; personal friends and mentors who turned a life of crime into revolutionary praxis.

Yet I cannot, nor do I wish to, simplistically celebrate any and all criminal acts. Rather, I seek to historicize the racialized and gendered nature of criminalization in the United States, and the broader effect this exercise of juridical power has on extended families and communities, specifically my own Chicana/o community. I seek to responsibly map the constructions of Chicana/o criminality, from the petty to the pathological, to the immanently as well as maturely revolutionary. My overarching goal is to situate Chicana/o criminality in relation to broader constructions of crime and the exercise of punishment in the broad history of U.S. imperialism. I also seek to humanize prisoners even as I critique them alongside the political economy that often overdetermines their crimes and, even more so, their punishment.

This book is an attempt to examine the construction of crime as an organizing principle for society, and, as such, to some this very book itself will seem criminal. At a time when civil liberties and the essential humanity of dark brown men and women are under siege yet again—this . . .

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